Friday, October 14, 2005

Misery Guts - You Betcha!

The latest spine-tingling stage production to hit London proves that live on stage just can't be beaten. Even if Cathy Bates is nowehere to be seen...

There's always an element of danger involved when watching the stage adaptation of your favourite film. Chances are, you're going to come out disappointed with "that's not the way it happens" and "they don't look like THAT" resounding in your head. When it's a Stephen King thriller, the risk is even higher... but Simon Moor's 'Misery' proved to impress perhaps the film's most ardent fan. My boyfriend came out in a rare state of silence. The verdict? "Disturbingly impressive".

Stephen King's 1987 suspense novel 'Misery' was first adapted for the big screen and promptly won an Oscar. Cathy Bates sent chills down movie-goers' spines and proved that she is a very hard act to follow. The re-creation of the progressively manic personality of Annie Wilkes and her arrogant but defenceless victim, best selling author Paul Sheldon was a job for the pros. And that is exactly what we were treated to. Susan Penhaligon's disturbing and engaging performance sends shivers down the spine - no matter how resilient you are. A glance at her pre-performance programme photograph reveals her astounding transformation into the unattractive, frumpy Annie Wilkes. Definitely the star of the show, she commands the nervous insecurities of the audience - both on and off stage. Michael Praed plays the bed-ridden best selling author of the Misery series. A man crippled by a car crash and worse still, the obsession of his fan.

There was barely a second that the two-strong cast didn't have us riveted. Praed convincing in his bed-ridden character's anguish and Penhaligon scaring the wits out of the whimpering inner child in us all. The strangely perverse cat and mouse magnetism of the two, added to the feelings of discomfort. Prepare for the unsettling silences, broken only by the manic clicking noises that resound from the mad-woman's throat. A blowtorch, a sledge hammer, a little dead body and a fire or two prove that there's no holding back on confrontation. Sometimes it's not what you see but what you hear that is most disturbing and the ragged charisma of the King's Head provides the perfect dank backdrop for such a dark performance.

The performance is obviously shaped more on the book than it is on the film. It is definitely not one for the children, or for the faint-hearted. But if a good night of bone-chilling suspense, blood and mystery is your thing then this is for you. Fan or Stephen King virgin, it is a great night's entertainment provided by two bona-fida masters of the stage. A brush with two stars in such an intimate environment is not an opportunity to be missed or forgotten.

Useful links:
THE KING'S HEAD: http://www.kingsheadtheatre.org/

Monday, October 10, 2005

As You Desire Me

Sometimes, just sometimes A-listers take to the big stage and do it well. Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins have hit the West End and leave a LOT to be desired.

Theatre isn't to everyone's taste... and for many, the thought of delving further into a pantomime than the next episode of Eastenders is unheard of. I mean, who would want to move their butt from it's firmly wedged position on the couch? Better still, who'd want to part with well-earned money to watch fully-grown adults prance about on stage?

I can name one person - me. And shows like 'As you Desire Me' prove that sometimes, money is worth parting with. I'd even do it twice - and for a tight little mite like me, that's saying something.

Sometimes, in the world of theatre, an A-list star or two are rallied in by the producer to attract an audience and to attract paying customers to venture out of their living rooms. Often this works, and theatre-virgins have their first fling with live performances, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the on-screen idol. Think Madonna in 'Up for Grabs'. It works too, and often the quality of acting (or lack of) goes unnoticed by members of the public whose main source of entertainment is the aforementioned Eastenders and Top of The Pops. Hardly ground breaking talent.

Recently however, I was witness to on-stage genius. And yes, they were A-listers. 'As You Desire Me' took to the Playhouse Theatre and looks set to stun.

Luigi Pirandello's play is obviously influenced by the troubled minds of the people whom the playwright encountered throughout his life. The winding, confusing and often thought provoking storyline explores the mysteries of identity. It's no walk in the park - or along Oxford Street for that matter. This one is deep. Director, Jonathan Kent tackles the thick plot with a star-studded cast and an awe-inspiring set. Most importantly, A-listers or not, this collection of performers can act - and together, they do it amazingly well.

The story is simple enough - it's the emotions it stirs that are confronting. L'Ignota, an amnesiac 1930s Berlin cabaret singer is confused about who she really is and the life she wants to live. A brutal assault and rape during the First World War left her without a memory. Decades later, she is still disillusioned. Her life in Berlin with the rotund and arrogant is suddenly disrupted when a man appears and tells her that she is, in fact, the wife of an Italian aristocrat. A new life awaits her and in a bid to discover the real person inside her, she heads to Italy to live the life of 'Chia'. A seesawing battle between reality, the need to believe, confusion and stark facts ensues. Who is the real Lucia?

This is where the stars come in - and boy do they make an entrance. Kristin Scott Thomas smoulders in barely there gowns and aloof sexual prowess. You may remember her from 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', 'The English Patient' or 'Gosford Park'. She commands the stage - beautiful, poised, and utterly convincing in the role of L'Ignota/'Chia'. As she struggles with her character’s inner confusion about her identity it's hard not to feel sorry for the rest of the cast - what a challenge to match such a performance. But, to their credit, they produce the goods...
Bob Hoskins shows why so many acclaimed awards grace his shelves. He brings L'Ignota's gruff, round Berlin lover to life and falters just long enough in her flighty shadow. My childhood memories include Hoskins in 'Mermaids' and 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'.

The love-hate chemistry between the niggling Lena and Salesio is both amusing and pitiful. But then again, old Aunts and Uncles always are. Performances by Margaret Tyzack and John Carlisle do not disappoint and take the spotlight off the lead roles with fleeting yet regular succession.

In somewhat less commanding roles, but vital pieces of the puzzle are Richard Lintern (Bruno), Finbar Lynch (Boffi), Andrew Woodall (Silvio Masperi) and Hanna Young (Mop).Paul Brown's sets are stunning - both Berlin and the grandeur of an Italian Mansion are convincingly bought to life and although extravagant, don’t detract from the story line or the performers. A stray apple nearly took out the poor audience members next to me - but I guess that's what you get when you sit in the second row! For the weak bladdered amongst you it may be worth noting that there is no interval! Luckily, this is in fact ingenious - a break would disrupt the flow and take away from the suspense. For the thirsty, drinks can be taken in to the show.

If you're considering going - do it. Eastenders can wait and it'll always be repeated.

The cheers that meet the closing curtain are testament to the quality of such a good night's entertainment. The two audience members I spoke to confessed that theatre usually brings them little more than boredom. After the performance however, they sang nothing but praise for the show they'd just witnessed. Sleep was the last thing on their minds!

Just remember to go to the toilet BEFORE the show begins... you don't want to miss a second of this gem.

Useful links:
http://www.lastminute.com/lmn/pso/catalog/Product.jhtml?CATID=22&PRODID=430887145